Unity in Diversity in Couple Relationships

Unity in Diversity in Couple Relationships


“This is the one essential: for if unity be gained, all other problems will disappear of themselves.”[1]


Consultation is a major skill to develop for partners to make couples relationships the growthful adventure that it can be. In the following, we want to explore a paragraph in John E. Kelstoe’s book that spoke to us and gave a sense of what the Baha’i Faith offers in terms of cutting-edge knowledge and insights.


“Contemporary thought tells us we should resolve our differences so that we can have unity. The Blessed Perfection tells us we should have unity so that we can make our differences harmonious. Contemporary thought tells us that unity is a lofty goal, an ideal if unattainable objective. The Covenant asserts that unity is the starting place, the necessary bedrock. This is a reversal of contemporary thought and perhaps one of the most far-reaching single innovations of this age.”[2]


Kolstoe compares “contemporary thought” with Baha’i teachings. Let’s now explore this quote in two parts.


The fist part is the assumption that we should resolve our differences so that we can have unity. This statement indicates that unity can only be achieved by resolving differences. When differences are seen as a threat to unity, we would need to have a uniform society to create unity. Baha’i teachings, on the other hand, propose that “we should have unity so that we can make our differences harmonious”.


Here differences are not denied or ignored. Abdu’l-Baha uses the example of a rose garden: “Although they are of different kinds, various colors and diverse forms and appearances, yet as they drink from one water, are swayed by one breeze and grow by the warmth and light of one sun, this variation and this difference cause each to enhance the beauty and splendor of the others.”[3]

He then goes on and refers to humans, “The differences in manners, in customs, in habits, in thoughts, opinions and in temperaments is the cause of the adornment of the world of mankind. This is praiseworthy.”[4] Here difference is seen as an enhancement rather than something that would threaten unity. We may differ in manners, customs, habits, thoughts, opinions and temperaments. Yet these in themselves should not be an obstacle. Differences are seen as “adornment” and are considered “praiseworthy”. “Likewise this difference and this variation, like the difference and variation of the parts and members of the human body, are the cause of the appearance of beauty and perfection. As these different parts and members are under the control of the dominant spirit, and the spirit permeates all the organs and members, and rules all the arteries and veins, this difference and this variation strengthen love and harmony and this multiplicity is the greatest aid to unity.”[5]


When it is the spirit that controls the different parts, unity is not only possible but inevitable. Here difference not only causes “the appearance of beauty and perfection” but as multiplicity also is “the greatest aid to unity”. This is the expression of the principle “unity in diversity”. Difference, diversity, does not threaten or negate the basic unity, that “is the expression of the loving power of God and reflects the reality of divinity”[6].


The second part refers to unity being considered by contemporary thought as “a lofty goal, an ideal if unattainable objective”. Here unity seems to be reserved for idealists and might not be achievable at all. On the other hand, Baha’i teachings assert that unity “is the starting place, the necessary bedrock”. Far from being a lofty goal, unity is given as the foundation. This is in particular true for Baha’i institutions: “For the bedrock of the Bahá’í administrative order is the principle of unity in diversity, which has been so strongly and so repeatedly emphasized in the writings of the Cause.”[7]

You can also consider this to be true for the institution of Baha’i marriage.

What does unity look like in couple relationships?


One way to view unity is to see it as alignment. Alignment is more than involvement. What makes relationships work is alignment; when two people are aligned with each other in purpose and intent. Being aligned with each other means, that the relationship’s well-being is their primary focus. Instead of trying to win an argument or trying to change the other, both make the well-being of the relationship a primary focus. Their alignment is with the workability of the relationship rather than the egotistical “pleasure” of being right.Then the other person’s happiness becomes each other’s source of joy[8]. Both partners understand that differences are vitally necessary and peacefully working out differences benefits everyone.


What undermines happiness and threatens unity in relationships most are conflicts or disagreements, where “the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns”[9]. Conflict researcher Friedrich Glasl states: “All social conflicts are based on differences – but not all differences are automatically conflicts.”[10] When the existence of differences is not the problem that leads to conflict, it is “how people handle their differences and how they experience them”[11].


When we feel threatened in any way by the differences that we experience with our spouse, this often points to unresolved internalised conflicts from the past, that we are unconscious of. Disagreements touch old sensitivities inside each of us – where we feel vulnerable, uncertain, isolated, or afraid. Old memories get triggered and we tend to regress into a child state, where we perceive our partner, who we normally love, all the sudden as a threat. A common survival strategy, when fear creeps in, is to become protective and defensive. We either outwardly fight and get caught in power struggles about who is right or wrong, or we inwardly defend against the apparent attack and close our hearts and build a “heart wall”[12]. In that state, giving and receiving love becomes very difficult. We lose our goodwill towards each other, our ability to listen with compassion and detachment and to appreciate the qualities in the other. It becomes very difficult to keep in mind that my spouse also “has a soul in which dwells the divine spirit”[13].


What makes disagreements that are fuelled by unconscious wounds of the past more complicated, is the fact that “our defensive patterns trigger our partner’s pain, who then in turn protects him/herself in a way that triggers us.”[14] We end up in repetitive conflict cycles, where deeper issues keep fuelling the arguments and the whole area of discussion becomes exhausting. We can easily lose sight of each other’s potential and the purpose to develop qualities of the human heart, known as virtues. “The greatest bestowal of God to man is the capacity to attain human virtues.”[15]


As couples, next to healing unconscious wounds, we also need to cultivate specific virtues. It requires devotion and commitment to work from the fullness of our hearts when difficulties arise. It takes self-discipline to remind ourselves to serve the wellbeing of our relationship. When we become stuck, too overwhelmed or lose ourselves in struggle, we need the humility to find the support to clear whatever blocks our hearts. Often it is helpful to seek a skilled impartial counsellor who works in a soul-centred way. As a couple, we need the openness to learn to recognize and to reveal underlying sensitivities that have the potential to inflame conflicts. That takes time, honesty, courage, and the skill to listen to each other with detachment and compassion, also referred to as “spiritual companioning”[16].


When we look at the relationship difficulties as opportunities for us to heal and to grow by recognizing “teachable moments”[17], we will be able to embrace our challenges better, and “create dynamics within the family unit that lead to material and spiritual prosperity”[18].


“Know ye, verily, that the happiness of mankind lieth in the unity and the harmony of the human race, and that spiritual and material developments are conditioned upon love and amity among all men.”[19] This is particularly true for couple relationships.


Mirjam Busch-Jarosewitsch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch



[1]   Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 30

[2]   John E. Kolstoe, Consultation, p.11f

[3]    Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 295

[4]    Ibid.

[5]    Ibid.

[6]    Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 217

[7]    Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day, p. 48

[8]    David R. Hawkins, On Relationships.

[10]  Friedrich Glasl, Confronting conflict, 1999, p. 16

[11]  Ibid., p. 17

[12]  Dr. Bradley Nelson, The Emotion Code

[13]  Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 25

[14]  Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch, Cancelling Out.

[15]  Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, 126-27

[16]  Linda Kavelin-Popov. This is one of the 5 strategies of the Virtues Project

[17]  Ibid.

[18]  The Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013

[19]  Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 286


Integrating Difference

When I was invited to make a presentation at the national NZAP conference with the title “Difference and Integration” I felt challenged to examine how both ‘Difference’ and ‘Integration’ are related.

Difference and integration at work can be seen on different levels.

The process of all development in life can be described as: thesis – antithesis – synthesis. Two opposites make one: father and mother create a child. On a personal level we move from dependence to independence to interdependence.

It is a challenge to stay with difference and allow for the natural process of integration to happen Continue reading “Integrating Difference”


Bonding, Order and Knowledge

HeronsBert Hellinger on relationships

“The one who is too good to be bad destroys the relationship.” (3.54)

“Sexuality is greater than love.” (3.145)

“You have to accept and take from father and mother as who they are: One does not become a parent through moral qualities but through procreation and birth.” (2.63)

“If I hurt him back a bit less, it does not only satisfy the sense of justice but also of love.” (2.28)

German family therapist Bert Hellinger states the obvious and provokes with strong and definite statements. Throughout the last years he has attracted great interest and big crowds at his public talks and seminars. Continue reading “Bonding, Order and Knowledge”


About Needs and Neediness

Our world is getting more and more complicated. We are affected by technical development and exponential increased knowledge. Yet the living together amongst people, human relationships seem to get harder.

The foundation for being in this world, for living together, is the attendance to our needs. Noticing needs, attending to them, and finding relief or satisfaction, follows in circular motions. Continue reading “About Needs and Neediness”


Unmet Needs and Healing Relationships

It is our vision that couples can support each other in the healing of their relationship as well as in their individual healing by attending to each others’ unmet needs.

The prerequisite for this is to have a certain level of consciousness in the relationship, the willingness for each partner to consider their part in every given situation, and the commitment to make love bigger than fear.

How does this work? Continue reading “Unmet Needs and Healing Relationships”


Making Love bigger than Fear

In every relationship there is a mixture of satisfaction and frustration. When we satisfy one another, life is enjoyable, we make each other feel good about oneself, each other and the relationship, – we blossom.

But what do we do when we frustrate each other?

No matter how close two people are, there will always be differences. Both have a different biography, different life experiences, different temperaments, different needs and preferences. In situations where we want our partner to be the same, feel the same or to live up to our expectations, frustrations happen. Continue reading “Making Love bigger than Fear”


Guilt and Regret

It is painful enough when we experience a tragic situation in our lives, death of a loved one, separation, an accident or other mishaps. We often make it worse by giving ourselves a hard time for it. As counsellors we reassure and encourage acceptance as clients face the inevitable. A painful situation doesn’t change when we make ourselves wrong for it. What is the purpose of making ourselves feel guilty?

Feeling guilty is a widely experienced foible of our society.

Recently we had a different perspective on guilt being presented to us. Continue reading “Guilt and Regret”


Some More on Guilt

Reader’s Question:

You showed very deep insights into the issues of guilt and shame. A query for me is that to let go of guilty feelings of long-standing duration seems to sometimes lead to the issue re-issueing in dreams – and at times during meditation! How does a person become really free of unwanted old messages – old holding back feelings of “Oh God, how could I have caused (or missed) such pain or need?” – when the consequences may still be apparent but insoluble?

This is a good question and we will attempt to respond to it from different perspectives Continue reading “Some More on Guilt”


Men and Fear

Focusing on fear brings up fear for me. My particular response to fear is diarrhea. Other responses can be over-eating, rationalization, withdrawal, depression, procrastination, sulking, anger, violence. In particular for men it seems difficult to feel fear. This leads to the fear of fear, a dead-end street.

There is a lot at stake when I feel frightened: my strength, my power, my maleness, my identity. As a man I often wouldn’t let myself feel the fear, I would feel something else or nothing instead. Continue reading “Men and Fear”